The Queensland Theatre Company’s Artistic Director speaks about his new team and leading the nation from Brisbane.

Last week, we attempted to organise a meeting of the ten members of Queensland Theatre Company’s new National Artistic Team. This process was a story in itself as we tracked down our artists in Vancouver, Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney so they could gather to launch this Australian-first initiative.

These artists are from a deliberately eclectic mix of disciplines including actors, writers, directors, designers, dramaturgs, devisors, programmers and provocateurs. They include: the next Chief in line of a Torres Strait Island; the director of the smash hit feature film The Sapphires; a leading New York literary director who now calls Australia home; the curator responsible for one of the most fertile periods of independent theatre in recent years; three great Brisbane artists who have been carving out careers interstate; one of the most important next-generation voices on race and identity in Australia; and artists who between them have decades worth of commitment to the Brisbane scene. They are, in alphabetical order: Jimi Bani, Wayne Blair, Margi Brown Ash, Marcel Dorney, Christie Evangelisto, Kat Henry, Nakkiah Lui, Annette Madden, Renee Mulder and Lucas Stibbard.

This group forms the new National Artistic Team of the Queensland Theatre Company. They are a uniquely large leadership team comprising 60% women, 30% Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and 70% Queenslanders. They are the eyes and ears paying genuine attention to artists and their work in various cities throughout Australia. They are the brains and hearts thinking about what Australian theatre needs and sharing their intense passion for its unique magic.

Why we set up this team is just as important as what they will be doing. In putting together an artistic team at QTC I wanted to send a message to the country about QTC’s commitment to doing things differently and to leading the nation from Brisbane. The National Artistic Team walks the talk of some of the key principles of the new regime at QTC: combining great local and interstate talent as a means of nurturing both; bringing Queenslanders back to their home state; continuing the Company’s commitment to Indigenous voices (and embracing the next generation of those voices); and providing a first home for the brightest new talent from around country.

Especially important is the idea of thinking more expansively about theatre in Australia. I think it is fair to say that Australian theatre has occasionally been too preoccupied with state borders, inter- and intra- city rivalries, and owning talent rather than collaborating to develop it. I want to change that. The QTC National Artistic team is charged with thinking about the health of the whole industry, the whole nation and the whole culture, because we believe that sublime art and exceptional artists can only emerge from a culture that is healthy. This requires thinking more collegiately. A multi-state artistic team is one example. Another is QTC’s new approach to auditions. In a few weeks we will throw open the doors of the Company to see the work of hundreds of actors. But, for the first time, we will do this together with our Brisbane colleagues La Boite, sharing resources, time, Artistic Directors and the challenge of developing careers.

Creating career pathways for artists is another key area of focus for the new National Artistic Team. As an industry we haven’t always thought systematically enough about nurturing the next generation. Yes there are exceptions – the women directors/women in theatre program at my most recent employer, the Melbourne Theatre Company, and the Griffin Studio at another of my previous theatre companies. But as an industry we can do more to look after people at all stages of their careers. A core part of the National Artistic Team’s role is to create opportunities for others. While they are a form of inner sanctum, part of being in that inner sanctum is devising ways to dissolve the boundary between inside and out – to make QTC as inclusive as it can be for artists and audiences. Leading the nation in the creation of career pathways for artists is also a means of addressing, concretely and from the ground up, the vital question of the diversity of voices on our stages. Every theatre company wants to narrow the gap between the people inside theatres and the people on the street outside. How that is achieved is the rub. QTC led the industry with the ground-breaking Reconciliation Action Plan developed by my predecessor Wesley Enoch and Executive Director Sue Donnelly. We want to build on that work and extend it.

When it works, theatre is a truly magical art form: democratic in its mode of creation and in its ability to speak to wide audiences, unrivalled in its urgency and ability to reflect contemporary society back to itself and unique in its capacity to change the temperature in a room full of people – to touch our souls through the power of an image or the twist of a story.

If you are making a show anywhere in Australia I would love you to invite the QTC National Artistic Team. In 2016, we have National Artistic Team members in Cairns, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and wherever else in Australia they might happen to be working. Of course we won’t always make it to a show. But we will be paying attention and if we get there we will be meaningfully engaging. Most importantly of all, even if you have no interest whatsoever in the QTC, we have an interest in you. Because we believe that a culture will only make great art if we think about the whole as well as the parts.

The National Artistic Team is the first step in QTC leading the nation from Brisbane. Stay tuned for more.